Ziad Anabtawi was born in Saudi Arabia and raised in Nablus. He pursued a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Tri-State University in Angola, Indiana, and a master’s degree in engineering management from George Washington University in Washington, DC. Upon his graduation, he returned to Palestine to run the family business. At that time, the first Intifada had just begun. It was a difficult start, but with determination and good planning, he transformed the risks of the Intifada into opportunity. Before the Intifada, people felt paralysed by the occupation. The mood changed after the Intifada, however, and a spirit of resistance emerged. Mr. Anabtawi found his method of resistance by creating new Palestinian food brands.
The Nablus-based family business, Anabtawi Group, developed new brands of vegetable oil, such as “El-Khayyal” and “Safi,” which have become leaders in the Palestinian market. These brands compete against Israeli and other imported products. Perhaps the success comes from the history of the family and their exposure to multinational imports. They had a lot of experience with premium brands, so when it came to creating their own brands, they utilised their knowledge to formulate a strategic plan and build their own signature.
“We wanted to do something for Palestinian agro-products, especially our exquisite olive oil,” Mr. Anabtawi explains. “We created another brand, ‘Al ‘Ard’ (“the earth” in English), which uses Palestinian agricultural products such as olive oil, thyme, and traditional Nabulsi olive oil soap.” He confirms that local (or national) Palestinian production is improving rapidly. He has been developing the family business for 25 years and has expanded the product lines and outreach. “I always counted on strategic planning and the spirit of youth in my work,” he says. “When you have a good plan and you implement it through young people, the outcomes will be better because of the energy generated by the youth.” His advice for upcoming entrepreneurs: “Identify your goals and target on a yearly basis, based on a three-to-five-year strategic plan, then you’ll succeed.” The company now exports to the United States, Saudi Arabia, and GCC countries, and has an online shop for its products.
Mr. Anabtawi was one of the founders of the Palestinian Businessmen’s Association in Jerusalem. He is married and has three children. Aside from work, Mr. Anabtawi enjoys travelling for the exposure to life and the experience it provides. His father always encouraged him to travel as a way to learn about various cultures and peoples. His favourite city on earth is Jerusalem; he lived there for five years when he returned from his studies. The city holds a special place in his heart, and he and his wife had their first child there. He also has a special interest in the visual arts, especially photography. He supports the cultural sector through his work by sponsoring social activities, sports clubs, and environmental endeavours, as well as by donating to local organisations. As a matter of fact, Anabtawi Group was the first in the Middle East to obtain Social Accountability Certification SA8000. In addition, the group supports Palestinian farmers and is a fair-trade company.
Mr. Anabtawi learned a lot from living and studying in America. “Determination was part of my character,” he says. “In America, I was able to put it into practice.” Living in a free society taught him how to operate outside the boundaries rather than allow himself to be trapped by them. “Freedom is a great thing, and I hope that one day we will have ours in Palestine,” he concludes.